Big Up from Aribinda

Thursday, May 29, 2008

More Cultural Lessons

This blog was written the 27th of May. Much love goes out belatedly to our troops and those who died in the service of the Great Nation of the United States. In memoriam, much love.

So, this blog is again a mélange. I have been in Ouagadougou for a few days now, soaking up a little English time with my fellow volunteers. Good news from that front as well. Two of my friends, Bryan and Chrissy, have gotten 3rd year extensions. They want to work a little more in Burkina. So, Bryan is leaving his post in the Sahel (he’s one of my “closer” neighbors at 120 km away!) to work at developing an IT curriculum in the Ministry of Education in Ouagadougou. Chrissy, a GEE volunteer (girls education and empowerment) is going to be working in Bobo-Dioulasso, I believe with an NGO. So, places for me to stay if I need, always a good thing!

I have been training with about 16 other volunteers and staff in French the past few days. Believe it or not, on June 2nd, I will have been away from Oregon for a year. Hard to believe it has been that long. Pops, you always told me it would fly by. I miss you like crazy mon pere, but I’ll be seeing you soon, that’s for sure. I find it neat that at the start of the second trip around, I understand so much more. I am really just scratching the surface now, in village and with a lot of my Burkinabe colleagues and friends. I understand French a lot better now and my speech does improve everyday. It’s great to see Vini, JP, Firmin, Theophile, Patrice, Siaka, JZ, Awa. The new CD Doug is fun to interact with too, so all in all, it’s a great time to be a volunteer.

I am training to greet the 32 new stagiares who are arriving in-country the 11th of June. I will be working three training weeks throughout summer, helping the trainees with everything I went through a year ago. I hope I can be as effective as the volunteers who showed me the way.

This part of the blog was written the 29th of May. Today was a good day at training. We had a session called cross-culture, which was a key part of our training during stage while I was a Peace Corps Trainee. Stage is the training that trainees go through to become volunteers. We broke up into small groups by counting out numbers. I was placed in a group with 2 Burkinabe, one Asian-American volunteer, and two African-American volunteers. We got a scenario of an African-American volunteer. The last paragraph mentioned the volunteer was bugged out because no-one enjoyed his music and he didn't share in a lot of the activities that other volunteers enjoyed. He felt ostracized even among other volunteers. I thought this was a little pity party for this theoretical volunteer.

I stated that opinion to the group. I said it sounded like he was whining. Of course, it was a brief story and I hadn't heard the whole bit of it. There had to be more reasons than that. Well, I am not trying to make excuses for myself. My buddy Robert from Michigan told the group he thought when people called the volunteer selfish, said he wasn't integrating well because of these things, or said he was whining were not good criticisms because they judged from a sole point of view. I felt bad right there. Then, it got worse. Aisha, another volunteer, talked about this situation being hard for her because she was an African-American. She asked why everyone always stereotypes blacks as whining or why people place them in these situations. Then, I felt really bad. I felt like a racist a little. I didn't feel real bad because I do feel like he was whining a little. However, I still feel, as I write this, that I am a little bit of a racist. Yaneth helped me understand a little better, being a woman of Colombian origin. She said some people of different cultures identify very strongly with their musical heritage, things of that nature, and so on. So, I need to think about perspective. The last thing I wanted was to hurt someone or for people to think I am not tolerant. I am glad it happened though because it gives me perspective. I am going to talk to Robert tonight and ask him what he thinks. I do need to talk to Aisha about it and apologize. I would like to understand more of her side. Hell, that's part of the reason I joined the Peace Corps. Honestly, I don't feel it that much, that, you know, racism feeling. The Burkinabe, for the most part, love Americans, especially it seems white Americans. What a lesson.

OK, some new things that I would like to tell everyone. Tradition is a hard thing to break. I guess I shouldn’t look at it like that needs to be broken. However, I believe there is a detriment into the whole ‘It’s just like that’ thing. You know, like when people look at something and just give up. They just accept the status quo… and move on. The status quo where I am at is, for me, unbelievable. However, these people never see how things could be. They are habituated to the things they do. It takes, maybe, 2 hours to get water. It’s just like that. There’s nothing good to eat, or, I eat the same thing every meal. It’s just like that. Transport sucks, life is hard up here, I can’t get a job. It’s just like that. Eek, enough already. People seem resigned to just accept it and move on. But there’s no place to move to, at least not where they’re at. Damn.

Well, due to reasons of policy, I can’t make comments regarding the government in Burkina. I dared to ask someone what they thought of President Blaise Compaore. I asked Hassan, a buddy of mine in village who grows beans for a living. He gifted my mom and dad with a cool goat sack when they came. He is a generous, good, hard-working soul. Well, I forgot that he was Mossi, but I still didn’t expect the answer I got from the guy. He tells me he loves his grand-fils (grandson). Huh? Oh yeah, Compaore’s Mossi too. So, he is happy that a Mossi is the president. I guess it makes sense when you talk about tribal thought or the way a lot of people perceive Africa. Tribe and relations matter a lot. Like the Kikuyu and Luo in Kenya, or some of the problems they have in Nigeria between ethnic groups, the Copts versus the Muslims in Egypt, although that is probably more a religious thing, the Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda, there are separations in Africa that don’t predominate as much in the rest of the world. There are still definitely things in Asia and parts of America, the issues that face Europeans and the émigrés who would like to be Europeans, etc. But man, it seems set here.

Then, the other day, I went up to the antenna to charge my phone on the diesel booster they have that runs the antenna’s power source. My buddy Toure and I were hanging out and some other friends were having tea. Some guy rides up on his moto and we all saluer (french verb for to greet) him. Toure and this guy start having a discussion about money. Toure proposes giving the guy 100 francs to eat by the marche. But then he pulls out 200 francs and says he doesn’t have the money. The guy and Toure start laughing. Turns out Toure is Mossi and the guy on the moto was Bissa. Well, they have a joke that exists between the Bissa and the Mossi. It’s like that in Burkina, as well as in a lot of other African countries. The different ethnic groups tease and joke with each other. It’s a way of keeping it fresh without conflict. I think that’s great. But then Toure turns to me and explains it. I am already familiar with how it works. Songhai, Fulani, Gourmantche, Mossi, Senofou, Bissa, Bobo, Fulse, among many others, all making fun of each other instead of fighting. But he adds a flair. He tips his head towards me and tells me that’s why there are no wars in Burkina. I said yeah, that’s great. But, I could see the insinuation. I sit there, representing, in ways, a bellicose American, involved in so many wars. But, our wars are a l’exterieur, oui? I think maybe not. Racism is still a bitch. But, the wars we are currently fighting (and the wars we have fought) do make us a war-like country. We harm many people through indiscriminate acts, yet we don’t talk about them like we should. Our travesty that is going on in Iraq is bullshit. Yeah, I know the war is ‘improving,’ but when are we gonna see returns? We have invested a shit ton into this thing, now when am I going to collect interest? That means, when are we going to be able to let these people rule themselves? When are we going to have to spend money, a lot of it mind you, in a place where it is arguably not worth the investment? I see people suffering, but I am not sure that our actions will have done anything positive for a long while to come. I don't want to offend my Iraqi brothers and sisters. Sadaam was a bad man, but what about initial goals? Bush has mismanaged almost everything. I was against the war from Day One, if you want to know. I am sick of seeing the US fight dumb wars where we have no business being. I could see why Toure said that, but a lot of the wars we fight are outside the States.

OK, I hope I didn’t piss too many people off. But that’s it. That’s my view. How can we solve the situation without spending so much money? The current strategy of bringing Shia/Sunni neighborhoods together may be working. But at what capital cost? We are infusing copious amounts of cash, in an opaque manner, into what I believe may well be a ramshackle system. Why can’t we fix Social Security, a pertinent issue for me, or, why can’t Bush not veto a child health care bill, which I believe he did not too long ago? I believe in strong defense, yes, and even believe in military tactical demonstration if someone is threatening your country. We must be strong against terrorism. It's funny how conservatives don't think liberals believe if we keep it on their turf it won't come to ours. We all know the Number One Goal of certain terrorist cells is to get here. I don't need a Hawk to tell me they're trying to bring terror, death, and mayhem to our beautiful country. It is a fact. They are coming. We can't catch every action or counter every feint. I can’t believe people voted for him once, for crying out loud… Oh, and my African colleagues all love Obama. That is to be expected of course, but I think it would be good for the whole world. America needs a boost after the liar leaves office. An office that has been tarnished and yielded impotent by nepotism, obfuscations and prevarications, scandal and gross negligence.

Much love goes out. Inshallah, we will have peace someday.

1 comment:

bakiko said...

Burkina is not ready to welcome a President from any other ethnic group but the mossi. It's so frustrating to be dictated by one tribe out of more than 40. It make me laugh when in Ouaga someone talks to me in moore and expresses hi disappointment when i tell him i don't speak his language. What? I'm jula and he can't speak jula as well. i don't give it a sh... of their language! we don't live in a mossi country. what does the government make of the second city, Bobo Dioulasso? As the president if he ever traveled west during raining season. of course he dares not. there's no road. ever read about statistics related to national project dispatching throughout the country? check for projects located in the jula area. travel to dedougou. go to bobo, banfora,...All biggest projects are located and implemnted in the mossi area. and they say they rule a country...